Garden aims to use fire to bring back historic ecosystem

Firefighters will be lighting flames, rather than putting them out, at the Oregon Garden on Monday. Their aim is to burn away non-native species to the Silverton garden can re-create an ecosystem once quite familiar in the state.

An oak savannah is a lightly forested grassland dominated by trees. Rearchers at the University of Arizona have written that these savannahs were once widespread across much of the West Coast and Midwest, and were maintained, in part, through fires set by American Indians.

In the centuries since non-native settlers arrived, bringing with them a host of invasive species, the controlled burns have stopped. That, along with the arrival of foreign plants, has changed the landscape.

Already officials at the nonprofit Oregon Garden have pruned trees and manually removed overgrown vegetation.

"This burn of a 12-acre unit within a grove of white oaks is the second phase of a project begun last year," said Oregon Department of Forestry's Chris Paul. The department and garden are coordinating with Silverton Fire and Rescue on the prescribed burn.

The fire will be ignited around 1 p.m. Monday, and is expected to last for about two hours. Meteorologists are monitoring wind conditions, and will postpone the burn if it appears that too much smoke will blow toward Silverton.

"Silverton residents and visitors to The Oregon Garden should expect smoke in the area during ignitions and as the fire smolders down," he said.

Paul advises people in Silverton who have respiratory conditions or are generally sensitive to smoke to limit their outdoor activities on Monday afternoon.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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